Rising patient numbers pile pressure on falling GP workforce

The number of patients registered with GP practices in England rose by more than 720,000 over the past year, while the number of fully-qualified GPs has dropped.

Registered patients rising (Photo: Mike Kemp/Getty Images)
Registered patients rising (Photo: Mike Kemp/Getty Images)

A total of 59,901,236 patients were registered with GP practices in England on 1 July - up 723,073 compared with the same time in 2018, official data published by NHS Digital show.

But the most recent GP workforce data show that over the year to March 2019, the number of fully-qualified, full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs fell by 441. On 1 March this year there were 28,697 fully-qualified FTE GPs - down 2% from 29,138 a year earlier.

The rise in patient numbers over the past year has come alongside a sharp decline in practice numbers, creating a 5% rise in the average practice list size.

Practice list size

In July 2018 there were 7,148 GP practices in England with an average patient list of 8,279 - but by July this year the number of practices had dropped by 244 to 6,904. The average patient list at GP practices in England has now reached 8,676 - up 47% from the time when the new GMS contract replaced the old Red Book contract in 2004.

The latest figures on patients registered with GP practices emerged as findings from the GP patient survey showed a one percentage-point drop in overall satisfaction with GP services. Despite this, 83% of patients are satisfied with their NHS GP service overall - and 95% have trust and confidence in the last GP they saw.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'Practices are now caring for 720,000 more patients than they were this time last year, while according to the most recent figures the number of full-time equivalent GPs has fallen by more than 400.'

He said that high levels of patient satisfaction were 'a testament to how hard GPs and their teams are working in practices up and down the country'.

Patient survey

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said this week that the positive patient survey results had only been possible because of 'the incredible efforts of GPs and their teams', working under 'intense resource pressures'.

She added: 'GPs are seeing more than 1m patients a day across the UK, but this increase in patient demand is not being met with adequate levels of resourcing and staffing, leaving patients waiting longer for appointments and some GPs burnt out, which ultimately puts patient safety under threat.'

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